In recent years, all we ever hear about coral reefs is about how they’re all dead. Sure, there was that massive, 600-mile long reef discovered at the mouth of the Amazon a few years back, but aside from that, it’s pretty much all been doom, gloom, and ocean acidification. But wait! Don’t throw yourself off a building just yet, because there’s good news. A group of ocean researchers recently discovered a previously unconfirmed reef off the southeastern coast of the U.S.
The reef, which is 85 miles long, was first spotted on August 23rd during an eight-hour long dive. Researchers were cruising around about 160 miles off the coast of South Carolina when they saw it. The mission, which was part of a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey, was trying to figure out ways to protect habitats that we know little about but are still managing to ruin. Their submarine, called Alvin, picked up images of live, healthy corals on top of huge mounds of dead ones, which means that the reef has likely been around for hundreds of years.
The corals are mostly a species of deep-sea coral called Lophelia. Found in colder, deeper water, Lophelia coral is extremely slow growing and is often destroyed by fishing outfits. “Good news is too rare these days, and this is a victory that we can all share,” Erik Cordes, the chief scientist on the expedition and a deep-sea ecologist at Temple University, wrote. “We have found a pristine coral reef in our own backyard.” Thanks to the Dan Fornari – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, there’s a three-minute time-lapse of the entire eight-hour dive on the extensive coral environment.
The mission, which was called Deep Search 2018, wrapped up on September 2, after a few weeks and 11 dives. “We completed 11 dives in the human occupied vehicle (HOV) Alvin in the turbid parts of canyons, stunning cliff faces, bubbling gas seeps, and massive deep-sea coral reefs,” Cordes wrote. “The information we have gathered will help us to understand these habitats and their dynamics.”
According to IFLScience, scientists from NOAA suspected the area had deep-sea coral mounds, but up until now, they’d never actually been seen. “Their visual observations correspond with mound features recently mapped by the Okeanos Explorer, providing further evidence that many of the mapped mound features are actually formed by corals,” wrote Caitlin Adams, the NOAA Web Coordinator. “As Lophelia grows and dies over time, new Lophelia grows atop the old skeletons, forming continuous reef structures that could stretch much farther than we ever imagined on the U.S. East Coast.”